City, neighbors judge—when are convenience stores inconvenient?

The City has ordered Market Express, on the corner of 32nd & Chicago, to shut its doors on March 31. (Photo by Dennis Geisinger)

The Minneapolis Licensing and Consumer Services Department has intervened in the business of two area convenience stores. It made an agreement with the owners of Market Express at 32nd and Chicago to surrender their business license as of March 31 in order to avoid a revocation process. And the City office also called a recent hearing for the representatives of the SuperAmerica Store at 25th and Bloomington to “step up their management practices,” according to the City.

Both actions were spurred by concerns the City had received from neighbors living near each business about perceived problems in and around the stores. But at least as far as those who live near Market Express, there remains considerable disagreement over whether or not the store has inconvenienced local residents.

“In the spring of 2007, the amount of complaints/concerns of loitering, suspicious activity, prostitution, trash, graffiti removal and concerns regarding tenants that lived in the upper units were building up,” said Powderhorn resident and Central Neighborhood activist Jeff Smollar about neighboring Market Express. “Livability concerns also came with it,” Smollar said.

“I don’t know, there seems to be a real bias against these guys (the Market Express owners),” said Seth Tighe, a Market Express neighbor who lives on Chicago Avenue. “I’ve known them pretty much since they took over the store and I’ve done a lot of handyman work for them. These guys are wonderful people. My wife and children go to the store all the time,” Tighe said.

“When city ordinances are not being followed, or at times blatantly ignored, livability issues of the community are gravely affected,” said neighbor Florence Hill about the store. “This disregard and disrespect creates a wedge between us. Our neighborhood has united to bring back peace to our streets,” Hill said.
“I feel bad for Izzy [Market Express co-owner, Eslam Sallam],” said another Chicago Avenue neighbor, Cecelia Rodriguez-Melendez. “I send my daughter over there to get things and he’s always very cordial. When somebody in the store tries to bother her, hit on her or something, Izzy will say, ‘Hey, don’t do that in my store.’ I think of all these stores, Izzy is the most honest,” Rodriguez-Melendez said.

“We don’t close stores solely on the basis of how the neighborhood feels,” said Deputy Director of Minneapolis Regulatory Services Ricardo Cervantes. “When it comes to loitering or other conditions that affect the neighborhood, these things rise to the top,” Cervantes said.

Market Express has been operating under certain conditions imposed by the City since it closed for about 10 days last summer. According to City communications, its owners had not filed paperwork that confirmed workers’ compensation insurance for its employees. Some of the conditions required of them include minimum staffing; a prohibition on the sale of single cigarettes and of “items which are commonly used by drug dealers and drug users,” like pipes, rolling papers and Brillo Pads or Chore Boy Products (that can be ripped into small pieces and stuffed in one end of a pipe as a filter and collector, holding a crack rock in place while catching any residual); properly functioning lights; and the installation of a digital camera system. Owners also had to agree to keep litter and debris from accumulating within 100 feet of their property, to close the store by 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and by 9 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday, to attend monthly block club or neighborhood meetings, and to pay or properly appeal outstanding fines of $1,600.

“There’s a large cost factor for the City when we have to set up hearings in order to collect on these fines,” said City License Inspector Julie Casey, whose involvement with the property goes back several years. “The Market Express owners have a history of nonpayment of fines.”

Market Express owners signed the agreement with the City to surrender their business license after they were cited for five violations of the previous licensing conditions. According to the City Licensing Department, there was a failure to complete a dumpster enclosure, the sale of a single bottle of beer, a failure to turn on exterior lights after sunset, the sale of items listed as drug paraphernalia, and a failure to pay fines in a timely manner.

“We look forward to a new commercial venture coming to 3159 Chicago,” said Florence Hill, “one that serves the needs of residents in the area and is willing to work with us.”

“I think it’s just ridiculous,” said Jeff Tighe. “People are sticking their noses in where they don’t belong.”

No debate is readily apparent about problems associated with the SuperAmerica store on 25th and Bloomington in South Minneapolis. The store was identified as a concern in a 2007 Minneapolis Police Department survey of residents in the East Phillips and Ventura Village neighborhoods. Police reports from last summer document arrests made for drug dealing and loitering offenses associated with prostitution in or around the store’s parking lot.

According to a Minneapolis Police SAFE bulletin, management of the SuperAmerica store on 25th and Bloomington in South Minneapolis was the focus of a Jan. 10 license settlement conference with the City Licensing Department. The conference was the first hearing held to see if the City could get the business to agree to changing practices that had drawn complaints from police and neighborhood residents.

“We’ve been working with the City and neighborhood associations,” said Linda Casey, communications manager for SuperAmerica parent company, Marathon Petroleum, in a recent interview with Southside Pride. “Most of the changes the City required were already made [before the Jan. 10 meeting]. There are three off-duty police officers at the store every night,” said Casey.

The City of Minneapolis and various neighborhood groups have grappled with the crime problems related to the high user volume associated with local SA stores for the past several years. Police and city inspections staff met with managers of the 2200 Lyndale Ave. S. SuperAmerica in December to address chronic problems at that store, including a shooting and then a robbery that took place just days later.

According to police records, in the year running from November 2006 to November 2007, 184 calls were made involved the Lyndale Avenue SA station, including calls about robbery theft, property damage, noise and many other reasons, with roughly 25 percent of the calls classified as assaults.

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